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Feral, North Carolina, 1965

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Ten-year-old Willie Mae doesnt just live near the town of Feral, shes a bit feral herself. Smarting from her older brothers recent preference for hanging out with boys his own age, and determined to uncover the secrets adults are clearly trying to keep from her, she spends her days eavesdropping or exploring on her bike. Raised in a fundamentalist Christian family, she has Ten-year-old Willie Mae doesn’t just live near the town of Feral, she’s a bit feral herself. Smarting from her older brother’s recent preference for hanging out with boys his own age, and determined to uncover the secrets adults are clearly trying to keep from her, she spends her days eavesdropping or exploring on her bike. Raised in a fundamentalist Christian family, she has an uneasy relationship with God, while acknowledging that he has the cosmic upper hand. The tightening knot of gender chafes her. The imminent integration of public schools reveals a full spectrum of racism infecting everyone she knows. Willie is no Pollyanna. She can be a fire-starter, a bully, sometimes mean and manipulative, sometimes naive and well-intentioned. Ultimately, her curiosity about the secret world of adults will lead to discoveries about the brutality of her surroundings that will shake her to her core and leave a lasting impact.


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Ten-year-old Willie Mae doesnt just live near the town of Feral, shes a bit feral herself. Smarting from her older brothers recent preference for hanging out with boys his own age, and determined to uncover the secrets adults are clearly trying to keep from her, she spends her days eavesdropping or exploring on her bike. Raised in a fundamentalist Christian family, she has Ten-year-old Willie Mae doesn’t just live near the town of Feral, she’s a bit feral herself. Smarting from her older brother’s recent preference for hanging out with boys his own age, and determined to uncover the secrets adults are clearly trying to keep from her, she spends her days eavesdropping or exploring on her bike. Raised in a fundamentalist Christian family, she has an uneasy relationship with God, while acknowledging that he has the cosmic upper hand. The tightening knot of gender chafes her. The imminent integration of public schools reveals a full spectrum of racism infecting everyone she knows. Willie is no Pollyanna. She can be a fire-starter, a bully, sometimes mean and manipulative, sometimes naive and well-intentioned. Ultimately, her curiosity about the secret world of adults will lead to discoveries about the brutality of her surroundings that will shake her to her core and leave a lasting impact.

30 review for Feral, North Carolina, 1965

  1. 5 out of 5

    Beth Wang

    So good. The writing is tight, atmospheric and lovely. Saraceno hits upon so many important things, but they are all unpacked so beautifully the stories of each person and each relationship lingers beyond the last page. This short novel must join the classics of American Literature.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Shelby Kassel

    This was incredibly lovely! Short, refreshing, nostalgic, atmospheric. A story of a ten-year-old girl, Willie, becoming her own person, questioning, developing her morals & identity, and seeing into & beyond the lives of those around her.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tara May

    I really enjoyed this! It reminded me a lot of The Evolution if Calpurnia Tate. The author does an amazing job depicting 10-year-old Willa Mae navigating a summer in 1965 North Carolina, expertly weaving childhood adventure and freedom with the darker themes of that era. Well done!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lolly K Dandeneau

    via my blog: https://bookstalkerblog.wordpress.com/ 'Its a project I have, trying to get grown-ups to talk about things they wont tell kids. You have to sneak up on it, come at it sideways- if you straight out ask, theyll send you outside to play, or if its night time, tell you to say your prayers and get to bed. Thats true most of the time anyway.' Feral, North Carolina, 1965 is a coming of age about a little girl who is all fire and spit! She isnt a good girl, not if it means being neat and via my blog: https://bookstalkerblog.wordpress.com/ 'It’s a project I have, trying to get grown-ups to talk about things they won’t tell kids. You have to sneak up on it, come at it sideways- if you straight out ask, they’ll send you outside to play, or if it’s night time, tell you to say your prayers and get to bed. That’s true most of the time anyway.' Feral, North Carolina, 1965 is a coming of age about a little girl who is all fire and spit! She isn’t a good girl, not if it means being neat and delicate. None of your beeswax doesn’t apply to Ten-year-old Willie Mae, she is nosy and incredibly perceptive. She longs to burrow beneath the surface, to seek out every family secret, but has no qualms about spying on her neighbors either. What else is there to do but hop on your back and see what sort of fun you can rustle up? She is a child with ants in her pants, far too much spirit and lord but it sometimes seems like the very devil has her ears. In the 60’s children weren’t bombarded with knowledge with the click of a mouse. The adults didn’t barrage them with answers to every question. That naivete is long gone, children were in the dark and if they were good little darlings, they held fast that ‘mother and father know best’. If you were a feral child, you resorted to any means you could invent to uncover mysteries. Curiosity killed the cat may apply to someone like Willie Mae, but she is witty enough to realize cats have nine lives and all the fun happens in secret! Long stretches are spent in the company of her beautiful grandmother, Birdy. Birdy who loves to talk of the past, especially about her charismatic, handsome, beloved older brother Billy until Willie comes around, as she always does, to the subject of his death. Then it’s the silence of a grave. It’s burning inside of her, to know how someone could die so young… why, why won’t Birdy tell her how he died! Sure it was a tragedy that occurred before her birth, decades ago, in dusty olden days, but he is still family, surely she has the right to know? Why, why won’t Willie Mae let the dead rest? Too curious for her own darn good! Willie Mae will fight dirty when she has to, like dealing with her big brother Dare, whom everything is a competition against. She may be a girl, but she is just as strong as him, just as fast! All her mother wants is for her to act like a little lady, but that just ain’t her way! It’s all dolls and frills when she wants to be like her brother, shooting at living creatures, why do boys get to do all the fun stuff? God fearing children do not spy on others. They sure don’t know what happens between a woman and a man. Aunt Etta wants Willie Mae and Dare to be ‘witnesses for the lord’ because it’s certainly the end of days. “Half the time I didn’t care that I was a sinner, but I kept it secret.” It’s so hard to be a perfect, good little girl when so much action calls to your soul. Death, racism, family secrets, God, sex, and nature are just a few things that occupy Willie Mae’s thoughts. She has so many questions bubbling inside of her. Maybe Willie Mae isn’t the only free spirit ever born into her family. Maybe she isn’t the only one who had to be tolerated. This is childhood, the lull before one’s rough edges are smoothed. Ten, a time when the secrets you poke at and prod change the way you see the world, and more importantly, your family. The world spins, and it is changing too, the old folks need to get used to it! This is a time that no longer exists, children running through the streets at play, wild little savages with scabby knees and snarls in their hair. There was an ugly side too with racial divides, children caught in the middle of the confusion. Clinging to old ways, what happens when someone is ‘different’ be it skin color or something else, something that isn’t tolerated. The bigger issues are always just above a child’s head, but they feel the wrongness of things, we see that with Willie Mae and her ever questioning mind. I enjoyed that Willie Mae sounds like a child, she can be a nasty little whip of a thing and sweet in the center, children really are neither good nor bad. Like all of us, they sway between the two. Yes, read it. Publication Date: September 17, 2019 SFK Press

  5. 5 out of 5

    Cathy Geha

    Feral, North Carolina, 1965 by June Sylvester Saraceno Short but not so sweet this story presents vignettes in each chapter that tell of the summer Willie Mae is ten living just outside Feral, North Carolina. As I read I was reminded of being in that in between age where I didnt feel I was a child and was so eager to be grown up...or at least be a teenager. I wanted to know everything and listened to adult conversation even pretending to sleep in the car when my parents were talking. I could Feral, North Carolina, 1965 by June Sylvester Saraceno Short but not so sweet this story presents vignettes in each chapter that tell of the summer Willie Mae is ten living just outside Feral, North Carolina. As I read I was reminded of being in that in between age where I didn’t feel I was a child and was so eager to be grown up...or at least be a teenager. I wanted to know everything and listened to adult conversation even pretending to sleep in the car when my parents were talking. I could definitely relate to Wille Mae’s summer but thankfully I was in Des Moines, Iowa and not in Feral or any other southern state...at least that was my feeling as I finished this book. Willie Mae was probably very normal but also...a bit feral. Some of her experiences reminded me of my own while others had me cringing. I think my take away is that childhood is not really easy. Due to the brevity of the book and it being told from the viewpoint of a ten year old it was...different. Anyway...not sure who the audience for this one is as it is not really suitable for ten year-olds and perhaps not exactly right for adults. I think it would provide fodder for discussion for students but am not sure what age students it would be geared toward. Some of the topics touched on: LGBTQIA, Murder, Bigotry, Integration, Religion, Early Babies, Sibling Rivalry and more...a lot packed into a bit over 100 pages. Thank you to NetGalley and Southern Fried Karma for the ARC – This is my honest review. 4 Stars

  6. 5 out of 5

    NarniaRU

    It is not often that I will fight severe sleep deprived fatigue to just read a few more words but for this beautiful novel that was definitely the case. Each chapter is both a short story and a little glimpse into a little girl's life in the North Carolina in 1965. Both the location and the time affect Willie but so many things still resonate today like the relationship we her brother and how girls are expected to act. Underscoring that we have her trying to understand how she feels about It is not often that I will fight severe sleep deprived fatigue to just read a few more words but for this beautiful novel that was definitely the case. Each chapter is both a short story and a little glimpse into a little girl's life in the North Carolina in 1965. Both the location and the time affect Willie but so many things still resonate today like the relationship we her brother and how girls are expected to act. Underscoring that we have her trying to understand how she feels about religion and race and not simply to follow in the footsteps of the grown-ups around her. I'm truly sad the book had to end. #FeralNorthCarolina1965 #NetGalley

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kaeleigh Reynolds

    A better version of Crawdads! Dealing with class, religion, feminism, and race during the Civil Rights movement, this short little book is able to pose questions and judgement on yesterday's and today's society. These big and hard concepts are easily digested coming from Willie's 10-year old perspective, plus she is so innocently naughty! She is a very lovable narrator!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Drenning

    Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC of this book. This was one of my favorite summer reads. Loved the characters, loved the storyline. Look forward to reading more by this author.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Claire Matturro

    "Feral, North Carolina, 1965" (Southern Fried Karma, 2019) is a powerful gem. Told with wit and verve, the novel unfolds in vignettes that read like short stories, and in fact, many chapters were previously published as short stories. Feral captures a time and place with impeccable world building, astute observations, and subtle humor, yet does not hide from the bigotry and malice that drives the final chapters. The young protagonist, Wilhelmina Mae Miller, is ten, hates her name, worships her "Feral, North Carolina, 1965" (Southern Fried Karma, 2019) is a powerful gem. Told with wit and verve, the novel unfolds in vignettes that read like short stories, and in fact, many chapters were previously published as short stories. Feral captures a time and place with impeccable world building, astute observations, and subtle humor, yet does not hide from the bigotry and malice that drives the final chapters. The young protagonist, Wilhelmina Mae Miller, is ten, hates her name, worships her brother Dare, is driven by curiosity, breaks rules, can be a bully, but through it all confronts the world head-on with tomboy energies. She is, however, understandably naïve. Her world—a segregated, rural community in North Carolina called Feral—is small, with sharp lines drawn in the sand. Yet Willie, as she prefers to be called, pushes those boundaries with enthusiastic innocence. Willie’s personality is aptly summed up in one of her early observations: “I figured out last summer that there were a lot of places you could go if you didn’t ask permission first and just stayed out of sight.” With that discovery, plus strong legs and a good bike, Willie ranges far and wide in her little world, but makes it home for supper. In one story, she goes where she knows she is not to go, Shillin Town, the community of blacks near the town of Feral. When Willie rides her bike into the midst of black kids playing, she raises her hand and waves, but the kids dart across ditches and disappear. Willie doesn’t understand “why everyone cleared out.” By the end of the book, sadly, she will understand their fear a great deal better.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ann Marie

    In reading June Saracenos compelling novel, Feral, North Carolina, 1965, its impossible not to think of To Kill a Mockingbird. Saracenos protagonist, 10-year-old Willie, is a naïve-yet-intelligent heroine like Mockingbirds plucky young Scout, who has a basic faith in the goodness of her family and the people in her community. She is wise beyond her years, but her innocence leaves her vulnerable in many wayswhich makes us love her even more. Willie is both blessed and cursed with a deep curiosity In reading June Saraceno’s compelling novel, “Feral, North Carolina, 1965,” it’s impossible not to think of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Saraceno’s protagonist, 10-year-old Willie, is a naïve-yet-intelligent heroine like Mockingbird’s plucky young Scout, who has a basic faith in the goodness of her family and the people in her community. She is wise beyond her years, but her innocence leaves her vulnerable in many ways—which makes us love her even more. Willie is both blessed and cursed with a deep curiosity about her world and the people in it (think Hermione Granger). By the standards of her time and place, she’s a tomboy, who is forced to reckon with the girly gender role her mother wants her to assume (even though Willie clearly demonstrates that she has more grit than her older brother). But sexism is only one of Willie’s hurdles. The crux of this book is about racism, and Willie loses her childhood innocence when faced with a racially motivated crime in her community. Saraceno tells Willie’s story with artful language and a deft hand, using a series of vignettes that seem almost disconnected at times, but that brilliantly set us up for the book’s final drama. Her intimate details of life in a small-town South Carolina town bring us face-to-face with Willie’s reality. Saraceno doesn’t back away from telling it like it is, and it’s impossible not to feel shocked by the story’s ending. There’s nothing neat or tidy about it—just a resounding sense of tragedy. This is a powerful story, exquisitely written. Read it. Share it.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne Roberts

    Feral, North Carolina, 1965 is a compelling novel, written in vignettes, that follows 10-year-old Willie, a sassy, curious tomboy, who loves eavesdropping in on adult gossip. She finds out two secrets, one about her own family and another one about a hate crime in her neighborhood. So while this is an innocent coming-of-age story on one hand; on the other, the segregated south and racial tensions simmer just beneath the surface. The book is so well written: the character of Willie is beautifully Feral, North Carolina, 1965 is a compelling novel, written in vignettes, that follows 10-year-old Willie, a sassy, curious tomboy, who loves eavesdropping in on adult gossip. She finds out two secrets, one about her own family and another one about a hate crime in her neighborhood. So while this is an innocent coming-of-age story on one hand; on the other, the segregated south and racial tensions simmer just beneath the surface. The book is so well written: the character of Willie is beautifully rendered, and the descriptions of the place and time period are just right. The novel is at once funny and lighthearted as well as deeply serious in its themes of gender constructs and race in the 1960's South. Once you pick this up, you won't be able to put it down again until you finish. I highly recommend it!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    A quick read, with each chapter almost a stand-alone short story about a country child growing up in rural North Carolina. She's a bit untamed herself, and gets herself into challenging situations, without real harm - just an increased awareness of the attitudes of the people around her. There's a lot to relate to, if you were a child in the 60s, even if you didn't grow up in rural North Carolina. Giving this a weak five. It's really more a 4.5 for me - it's not life changing, but it is A quick read, with each chapter almost a stand-alone short story about a country child growing up in rural North Carolina. She's a bit untamed herself, and gets herself into challenging situations, without real harm - just an increased awareness of the attitudes of the people around her. There's a lot to relate to, if you were a child in the 60s, even if you didn't grow up in rural North Carolina. Giving this a weak five. It's really more a 4.5 for me - it's not life changing, but it is refreshing, in an odd way. Despite the underlying elements of racial tension, girls who get in trouble, and an uneasy relationship with church folks, this book still has elements of charm.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    I was the same age in the 60s as Willie Mae so could really relate to those times and feelings. Luckily, I didn't live in Feral. This was a really good read and brought back many memories both good and bad. Another reviewer said the saying curiosity killed the cat applied to Willie Mae. It does, but I would add Willie Mae also knew satisfaction brought him back. I'm hoping younger people can see how it was before the computer age where knowledge wasn't at your fingertips. Highly recommend

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mitch Boxberger

    Don't spend too much time reading my review, just pick up the book and read it. Each chapter is brief and brilliant. I was quickly transported back to my own childhood where I too would often find myself in similar situations as our curious Wilhelmina Mae Miller. I was reminded that after 50 years somethings never change. Like the relationships I have with family and the bigotry that quitely exists in my community. If you have a short attention span like I do, you'll love how the Saraceno's story Don't spend too much time reading my review, just pick up the book and read it. Each chapter is brief and brilliant. I was quickly transported back to my own childhood where I too would often find myself in similar situations as our curious Wilhelmina Mae Miller. I was reminded that after 50 years somethings never change. Like the relationships I have with family and the bigotry that quitely exists in my community. If you have a short attention span like I do, you'll love how the Saraceno's story is built on every unique, captivating chapter.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Katherine

    I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for something not just quick and fun, but something that will address aspects of life that everyone has to face at some point, and not all of them are pretty. Willie Mae is the type of character that a lot of people can relate to, and reading through this story takes you back to your own childhood and further, delving into the world of the south in the 1960s.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

    This book is a great read. The words flow easily, the characters are delightful, and the story carries you away. Feral succeeds in both capturing the universal experience of childhood, while evoking a specific place and time. Reading it, I felt as if I myself were the protagonist, a 10 year old girl in North Carolina circa 1965. I have never been there. Like all great books, this one transported me.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Linda Seal

    What a wonderful book! It brought back all the sights, smells, and sounds of childhood, especially for those of us who grew up a bit on the hoyden-side. We know Willie Mae! She is the adventurer in us, the curious (nosy even), resilient, mischievous, lovable essence of childhood. June Saraceno, with wonderful and magical skill, breathes life into Willie Mae in a lovely and honest way. My only complaint is that the book ended way too soon.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Tanya Riley

    I really enjoyed this quick read. Even though Im a child of the 1980s I could relate to 10 year old Willie. So much of this story brought back memories of my own childhood. Being raised in a Pentecostal family, the constant awareness of biblical knowledge and worldly thoughts were pervasive in my own youth. I really enjoyed this quick read. Even though I’m a child of the 1980’s I could relate to 10 year old Willie. So much of this story brought back memories of my own childhood. Being raised in a Pentecostal family, the constant awareness of biblical knowledge and worldly thoughts were pervasive in my own youth.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Leah

    I loved the way the author of this novel weaved childhood stories with the darker aspects of the time period and how they affected the protagonist of this story 10 year old Willa Mae. Growing up in a fundamentalist christian house in a small toen in the 60's Willa Mae has a happy but strict childhood in which she has many adventures. Thanks to Net Galley for the ARC of this book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jill Sanford

    Sweet, poignant vignettes of a young girl beginning to understand the nuances of the adult world.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Susan Lynnes

    I loved this little book...it transported me back to being a 10 year girl ~ beautifully written and well edited ~ absolutely worth reading.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cristie Underwood

    Great read. The author wrote a story that was interesting and moved at a pace that kept me engaged. The characters were easy to invest in.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Eddie L Whitehead

  24. 4 out of 5

    LE

  25. 4 out of 5

    Anna

  26. 4 out of 5

    Melinda

  27. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

  28. 5 out of 5

    John Merryfield

  29. 4 out of 5

    Krista Lukas

  30. 5 out of 5

    Hannah V

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